Mayor Ted Wheeler Agrees to Disband the Portland Police Bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team

Wheeler becomes the third vote to eliminate the unit, a longtime target of reform advocates, most notably Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.

Protesters take to Interstate 84 on June 8, 2020. (Brian Rose)

Mayor Ted Wheeler today announced the Portland Police Bureau will dissolve its Gun Violence Reduction Team.

That concession means he's the necessary third vote to pass a proposal first put forward by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime advocate for police reform, and seconded by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. (The fourth commissioner, Amanda Fritz, has a policy of not announcing how she will vote on issues coming before the council.)

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Wheeler pledged the council would shift $12 million away from city bureaus to programs aimed specifically at benefiting people of color. (Of that sum, $7 million will come from PPB, the city's largest general fund bureau, and $5 million from other bureaus. Specific details of exactly what will get cut and how the money will be spent have not yet been decided.)

The move comes a day after Wheeler abruptly introduced a new police chief, former Lt. Chuck Lovell. He said today's announcement of the end of a unit that critics say disproportionately targets young black men is another step toward responding to calls for urgent, tangible reforms.

"This moment has given us a historic opportunity to reimagine what policing and public safety looks like in our community," Wheeler said.

He and Lovell said the officers currently assigned to the GVRT would probably be reassigned to patrol duties or other units. The GVRT was formed last year after an earlier version, the Gang Enforcement Team, was disbanded amid criticism that it too disproportionately focused on young black men. Hardesty, an outspoken critic of both teams, had pushed for the dismantling of GVRT long before the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

With the council due to adopt its 2020-21 budget on June 10, she and Eudaly amped up the pressure on Wheeler over the past several days—pressure that he acknowledges also came from all directions and in all forms.

"People want to see change today," Wheeler said. "Not task forces, not legislation a year from now."

In addition to the end of GVRT, Wheeler announced the city would not renew its contract with TriMet to provide police officers to the transit agency when it expires at year's end. It will also, as previously announced, pull officers out of public schools; make it easier for citizens to sue if they've been racially profiled; reenvision core police patrol services; and overhaul existing mechanisms for independent review of complaints against the police, which Wheeler called "toothless."

The mayor acknowledged the changes would be difficult for the bureau and involve hard conversations with the Portland Police Association, the powerful union that represents officers and sergeants.

In a statement, PPA president Daryl Turner said his members are on board for change. "We are engaged," Turner said. "We are listening. We are evolving along with our community."

But he said taking officers out of schools is a mistake, as is the council's decision to end the GVRT.

"Disbanding and defunding of the GVRT will send shock waves to the community, reversing years of hard work, dedication, intelligence gathering and commitment by the rank-and-file members of the GVRT and removing another tool in preventing violence in our city," Turner said.

But Wheeler said he and his council colleagues are committed.

"These actions are long overdue, and government is not doing this alone," the mayor said. "We are doing it with everyone, with our community partners and with our black leaders and community."

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